Thoughts On Sanders The Great In Light Of Chris Johnson's Chase

mike bestContributor IDecember 27, 2009

25 Oct 1998: Barry Sanders #20 of the Detroit Lions grips the ball as he runs during the game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac Michigan. The Vikings defeated the Lions 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Tom Pidgeon  /Allsport
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

First things first...

Barry Sanders is my favorite athlete ever.  Not just football player, mind you. 

Favorite athlete .

No matter the sport, no matter the setting, no matter the time, Sanders has, and always will, hold the top spot for me.

So, it's only fair to make that perfectly clear...for all intents and purposes, this is an opinion piece, and nothing more.

Second...

Chris Johnson is one amazing running back.  I mean...amazing.  He has become, without a doubt, the preeminent yardage machine at his position.  More prolific, these days, than the Charger's Ladainian Tomlinson, the legend Johnson's Titans faced on Christmas Day.  More prolific, even, than the great Adrian Peterson, the man who entered this season as just about everyone's pick as the next "2000 yard man". 

Instead, it is Johnson's 2009 campaign that has become historically significant, an individual season that keeps getting more impressive with each carry, each score, each magnificent run. The 2000 yard plateau is certainly within reach for him (128 yards within reach, to be exact).  And even Eric Dickerson's hallowed mark of 2105 yards lies within striking distance of the electric Johnson. 

And so, with the first two points of this piece covered, let's get on to the third.  And no, point No. 3 has nothing to do with comparing the subject of point No. 1 (Barry Sanders) to that of point No. 2 (Chris Johnson). 

At least not, I must say, in terms of style...because no back, stylistically, reminds me of Sanders.  A fitting comparison for Johnson, I think, would be to Tony Dorsett, another insanely fast, quick, and elusive gazelle who did his fair share of incredible things over the course of a great career...

But no, I'll simply harken back to the headline of this piece and explain why Johnson's run at 2000 yards of immortality trigger thoughts of Sanders.  You see, Barry Sanders is the best back I've ever seen, and every time a Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson or Ladainian Tomlinson bursts onto the scene, I am reminded of why. 

Great players like them make no secret of their goals, and amongst those goals are some of the individual variety.  Hence, you have both Johnson and Peterson stating during this past off-season that they want to run for 2000 yards...you have Tomlinson fessing up to the fact that he wants to break the great Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing mark, and so on.

And that's all good and well, and here's to hoping that each one of them get their wish and reach their goals and continue to lay their prints all over the realm of football immortality.

But this is also why Barry Sanders will always be No. 1, at least to me.  And I know I may be in the minority when I say this, seeing as we live in an era of stat obsession and fantasy fanaticism, where every conceivable record is being dreamed up by the stat-a-holics (i.e: "Player X has just run for the 12th most yards over a 35 game span when there is a full moon out in NFL history").  Sanders isn't the No. 1 rusher of all-time, after all...he doesn't have the most touchdowns or the most receptions.  And he doesn't own a Super Bowl ring.

But Sanders is the best to me, because he was never concerned with individual statistics.  And yet, he put up some incredible numbers, digits that become mind boggling when put into perspective:

He never set out to win a rushing title...and still won four of them.  Had he not taken himself out of a blowout victory over Atlanta in the season finale of 1989, he would have won five...

He never came out and said that he wanted 2000 yards, yet racked up 2053 of them in 1997, and came close to 2Gs in 1994...

He never fussed at the Lions choosing to take him out on the goaline midway through his career even though it meant fewer touchdowns for himself.  And yet, he still managed to rack up 99 scores on the ground...

He never laid claim to surpassing the incomparable Walter Payton as the No. 1 rusher in history and still, the former's 15,269 yards are only 1457 removed from the latter's 16,726...

Call me foolish, call me naive, but I am convinced that if Barry Sanders had wanted to win the rushing title every year, he could have done it.  That if he had wanted to score 15 touchdowns a year, he would have.  That if he had wanted to challenge Dickerson's single season mark, it would have been a done deal.

So, in the midst of Johnson's current pursuit of history, which deserves all the attention it is receiving...in the midst of Tomlinson's quest to usurp Smith's standard-bearing numbers...in the midst of Peterson's game to game brilliance, so full of potential that you think he might break his own single game rushing mark every time he plays...

In the midst of all of those things, I remember the great Barry Sanders.

And I remember him fondly.

Related

    Report: Raiders Picking Up Cooper's 5th-Year Option

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Report: Raiders Picking Up Cooper's 5th-Year Option

    Alec Nathan
    via Bleacher Report

    Report: NFL Plans to Talk Future of the Kickoffs

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Report: NFL Plans to Talk Future of the Kickoffs

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Inaccuracy Talk Bugs Josh Allen

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Inaccuracy Talk Bugs Josh Allen

    Mike Florio
    via ProFootballTalk

    Gronk Says He'll 'Maybe' Return in 2018 🤔

    NFL logo
    NFL

    Gronk Says He'll 'Maybe' Return in 2018 🤔

    Mike Chiari
    via Bleacher Report